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How to Write a Narrative Poem

How to Write a Narrative Poem

Whether you're an aspiring poet or you just have an assignment for your poetry class, a narrative poem is right for you. It's easy to write, and it comes out really well, too. So, all ye poets-to-be, this Penlighten article is for you. Read on to know how to write a narrative poem.
Vrinda Varnekar
Additional Tip
Since a narrative poem does not have a specific rhyme scheme, you can choose to rhyme close words instead of rhyming words just for the heck of it. For instance, you can choose to rhyme 'allow' and 'now'.

The popular belief that circulates among all of us is that not everyone can write poems, that being able to let emotions flow into words is a talent only a few of our fellow human beings are blessed with. Not true! Well, okay, it IS partly true. (How else can we explain some of the greatest poets in history, such as Robert Frost and William Wordsworth?)

What we're trying to say is, many of us can actually write good poems once we know the tricks of the trade. Especially, when the trade is writing narrative poetry. What is narrative poetry, you ask? We know the answer, you see, but you're going to have to read on to know that!

What is a Narrative Poem?

Narrative poems were born in the literary world long before the concept of printed books came into existence. Actually meaning a 'story poem', a narrative poem tells the tale of something, anything, through words that don't necessarily have to rhyme. We can find instances of narrative poems in ancient Greek, as was splendidly demonstrated by the celebrated poet, Homer, in the Iliad. Back then, narrative poems were a wonderful tool of remembering, sharing, and passing on different stories by weaving them with rhyme, rhythm, and colorful, vibrant, and vivid language.

However, not all narrative poems are as long as the Iliad. In fact, there is no set rule that demands a poem to be of a particular length. As far as narrative poems are concerned, there are barely any rules anyway. It is not necessary that the poem has to rhyme, it can have a free rhythm, and it can be about absolutely anything. There's only one condition though―it has to tell a story.

How to Write a Narrative Poem

It is fairly easy to write a narrative poem, which you will understand as you go through each of these steps given below.

Step 1
First and foremost, you need to come up with an idea for your narrative poem. Like we told you, it can tell the story of anything and everything you want. Ancient narrative poems often told legendary tales of battles, wars, the politics that existed, Gods, and the fight between good and evil. Your poem can be your own life story, or maybe of a particular event/book/person that moved you, and made an impact on you. So, first things first, think of an idea.

Step 2
Once you have your unique idea, try to read some narrative poems written relatively recently. The reason why we're saying this is that the language in the ancient poems is very different and may not make much sense at times, simply because we don't use so many of those words or sentence structures anymore. Read up some newer poems to get a feel of how they're supposed to be, more or less.

Step 3
Even if you have a vague idea of what you want to write your poem about, don't rely wholly on it, and even if you do, don't set any specific time about when and where you're going to be writing your poem. Inspiration can hit you anytime, anywhere, and you never know, words might just be waiting to burst out when it does. Make sure you register everything around you―the sound of a bird, the color of the sky, the shape of a cloud, the smile of a baby. Everything. Something might just trigger emotions within you, and bam! Your poem is born.

Step 4
Decide the outline of your poem. Just because there are barely any rules applicable does not mean that your poem can have a story without an outline as that just won't make sense! Decide how you want the story of your poem to begin, what characters are going to be a part of it, what person you're going to write it in, and how it's going to end. Keep in mind though, your story needs to have elements of change in it for the necessary dramatic effects.

Step 5
Begin with the beginning. It is not necessary to start your poem with ''once upon a time..''. You may choose to introduce the most dramatic part of your story into this poem so that it has the reader gripped from the very first sentence. Take for instance, The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. He begins with "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary..." You see? The beginning alone makes you want to devour the poem immediately.

Step 6
Let yourself go and give your thoughts a decent outlet through your words. Don't think about anything except your story, and let it take its own form as you go on. Don't worry about the rhyme scheme or the rhythm of the poem, you can always tweak it later! Don't expect to be done in a few minutes, and be prepared that it may take you even days. But don't fret, it's going to be worth the wait.

Step 7
When you're writing your poem, add a little dramatic flair to the story every now and then to make it more interesting. By dramatic flair, we mean, make sure every word is fraught with heavy emotion, and that it is capable of conjuring up images in the reader's mind. Only then will it make itself apparent to the reader. For instance, if you want to say something like "She felt happy.", you can add a little dramatic flair to it by saying "She felt like she was on top of the world, where no sadness could reach her." See what we mean?

Step 8
End appropriately. The ending to your poem's story needs to be as good as the story itself, or the whole poem loses its shine. Most people find the ending tricky but that needn't be so, as long as you know how your story is going to end. Take care to not make it too long, or too short or too vague, unless it matches the style of your poem! Vagueness can kill the reader's interest. However, if your poem is a little abstract (which it absolutely can be, and abstract poems are beautiful, too!) the ending can match the tone.

Step 9
Leave your poem for a while once you're done with it. Later, come back and review it with an unbiased mind, and try to fix any errors which you might have made. You can also find the way you want your rhyme scheme to be. Reviewing your poem might also suddenly make you think of elements which you might want to add/remove from it. Don't be too harsh on yourself, especially if this is your first attempt!

Step 10
There you go! Your poem is ready. Now all you need to do is make it available to your readers. You can publish it on a blog, a writing forum, a social networking site, the possibilities are endless.

Narrative Poem Examples

Here are five examples of some really amazing narrative poems by famous poets. Try reading these to get a better idea!
  • The Raven ― Edgar Allen Poe
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin ― Robert Browning
  • Godiva ― Lord Alfred Tennyson
  • The Idiot Boy ― William Wordsworth
  • Lord Ullin's Daughter ― Thomas Campbell

Now that you know how to write your narrative poem, what are you waiting for? Get out your pen and paper (or computer!) and write away. Best of luck!